May 3, 2007

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Next (PG-13)
Nicholas Cage creeps us out with the age-inappropriateness of his on-screen relationship with Jessica Biel in Next, a movie about a man who can see two minutes into the future but doesn’t see how icksome it can be when a 43-year-old guy stalks a 25-year-old girl.

Every movie doesn’t have to feature as its romantic leads people who were in the same math class in high school but a relationship built on a clairvoyant who hangs out at a coffee shop until a particular girl shows up who just happens to be a whole seventh grader younger than him? That’s not going to end well. He’s going to be all, “Let’s have kids now so I don’t die before they get to college.” And she’s going to say, “No, I’m young, I want to wait at least 10 years.” And he’s going to say, “But I want to start a family.” And she’s going to say, “But I want to have time to update my MySpace page.”

I’m just saying — there are going to be hurdles.

Also, Julianne Moore is, for no apparent reason, in this movie. She’s 46. Why couldn’t she (or an actress born within her decade) be the future girl for whom Cage pines?

On the other hand, Callie (Moore), a federal agent, seems a little too together to mess with the likes of Cris (Cage). He’s a bottom feeder in the Las Vegas entertainment industry — doing hokey magic shows and supplementing that income with some low-level gambling. He doesn’t gamble big money but he wins enough to gain the attention of casino officials, who are about to chase him off when he stops a man he sees rob the casino. Except the man doesn’t rob the casino; Cris can just see two minutes into the future so he gets a bit of a head start when it comes to keeping out of trouble. Dashing from the scene of a preempted crime, Cris is followed to his hideout by Callie who, he eventually learns, wants to rope him into a hunt for a missing Russian nuclear weapon which might be set to explode in Los Angeles (between this and 24, the entertainment industry makes Los Angeles seem to be awash in smuggled Cold War nukes).

But Cris has other priorities. He’s on the hunt for a girl he’s seen in one of his only beyond-two-minutes glimpses into the future, a girl he sees himself meeting in a coffee shop, a girl he comes to find out is named Liz (Biel). Liz is fresh out of a bad relationship but says, “hey, sure, nosy stranger I just met, I’ll drive with you for hours to Flagstaff.” And quicker than you can say “we’d better stop for the night,” our lovers on the run (well, Liz doesn’t know she’s on the run but she’ll find out eventually) are all snuggled up in bed.

Like other movies built on Philip K. Dick stories, Next is good in concept but uneven in reality. Cage has forgotten how to play everything but an Elvis impersonator and Biel never really learned how to act (you can’t blame her; she got her start on 7th Heaven). Moore is, naturally, quite good but quite good with only a secondary character. Everybody’s dialogue is serviceable to lousy and the movie’s final twist is a bit of a letdown. While facets of Cris’ character make sense (he keeps a low profile so his ability isn’t detected) it doesn’t always jibe with his actions (stealing an expensive car, for example). And not in an ooo-he’s-so-complex way, more in a the-writers-forgot-what-happened-two-pages-earlier way.

In the hands of writers who are able to work the continuity required for a science fiction story while still building relatable, interesting characters (writes, for example, like the ones crafting the stories and characters on Heroes), Next could have been an exciting and clever tale. Ah, if only someone at the studio could have seen two minutes into the movie. D

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action and some language. Directed by Lee Tamahori and written by Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum from a novel by Philip K. Dick (The Golden Man), Next is an hour and 36 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures.